FOXBORO - Evaluating a college player is still not a science, Patriots' personnel chief Nick Caserio said Tuesday.
As advanced as the methods may be, and as much information is put forth for consideration, gut feelings still play a role in the decisions that are made when teams re-stock their rosters during the NFL Draft.
"I think that really, you look at the entire body of work," Caserio said at the Patriots' pre-draft press conference at Gillette Stadium. "When you create the profile, there are a multitude of metrics that go into that."
As the Patriots prepare to make their choices in the three-day selection meeting that starts a week from Thursday (eight picks at present, pending trades), the personnel staff has undertaken an exhausting ritual of evaluation that considers several different factors - as Caserio said, "the player's performance, his football character, which is separate from their off-the-field character, if you will their medical history, their playing history, and you really try to take all that information and in the end, say that here's the profile of that player, and if we feel comfortable as an organization with that player, then we make that decision.
"If we don't feel comfortable, then we move on to the next player," he added.
Caserio didn't say whether the Patriots have moved the bar any in their evaluations following the outcome of their selection of Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.
Of course, it's 20-20 hindsight to suggest that there were enough warning signs present to prevent the Patriots from drafting Hernandez, who remains incarcerated on first-degree murder charges. Nor could they have known to what accused extreme Hernandez's association with gang members would take him three years into his career. The big tight end from Florida, via Bristol, Conn., fooled a lot of people on his way to the Bristol County House of Correction in North Dartmouth.
For every miss, there are probably just as many hits - situations where personal interviews convinced the Patriots to stay the course on a particular player despite trouble in his past. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard recently completed a short jail term for having assaulted a Lincoln, Neb., police officer before he was drafted, but the Patriots remain convinced that Dennard's transgression was not a pattern.
Personal interviews are important, Caserio said.
"The interview process in and of itself, you touch on a lot of different things," he said. "Their personal situation, their background the football component of it is significant."
Caserio said there can be several interviews conducted with a single player - at an all-star game, at the combine workouts in Indianapolis, and possibly at private workouts.
"You have a system of checks and balances," he said. "It's not just one 15-minute combine interview where we say, 'OK, we've got it all straight.' It's very extensive, it's very exhausting and it touches upon a number of different areas. Really, what we're trying to do is figure out within the confines of this building, will he be able to handle the demands of our program on a day-to-day basis."
Not surprisingly, Caserio offered no specifics about the Patriots' plans for their draft, which begins (as was the case last year) with the No. 29 selection in the first round - a pick that was traded to Minnesota for four lower-round picks.
He deftly sidestepped a direct question about whether the search for Tom Brady's replacement will start in this draft.
"Right now, I think our focus is just on the draft and trying to improve our team," Caserio said.
Nor did Caserio seem to think that the two extra weeks he had to prepare for this year's draft made much of a difference - other than possibly allowing head coach Bill Belichick the opportunity to run a half-marathon in Nashville.
"It was really how you utilized it," he said. "We're not really doing anything differently. Has it given us a few more weeks? Maybe but I'd say that just generally speaking, it hasn't had much of an impact."